You’ve always known that dogs have seriously sensitive snouts, but it may surprise you to learn that their sniffing powers go beyond tracking down prey or putting on their cutest faces to beg for a bite of your dinner. Canines go out of their way to sniff everything they encounter because it’s one of the primary ways they learn about the world around them. They can even be formally trained to accurately sniff out specific scents, including illegal drugs, electronics, people, cash — and yep, gluten.
Why Gluten-Sniffing Dogs?
Having the ability to sniff gluten may not sound like a big deal, but when you consider how many people have gluten allergies and intolerances — specifically those with celiac disease — the ability to do so opens up a lot of doors. Doors that prevent people from getting sick or ending up in the hospital after accidentally consuming a food item that unknowingly contained gluten.
For those unfamiliar, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestine. Those who have it are unable to process gluten effectively, which can lead to uncomfortable and sometimes painful and dangerous symptoms. Currently, about 3 million people have celiac disease in the United States.
While many foods are labeled well, that’s not always the case. Dogs who can sniff out gluten can save their owners from a lot of pain and discomfort (not to mention medical bills).
How Gluten-Sniffing Dogs Are Trained
There are a handful of companies that specialize in training “Celiac Service Dogs,” including Allergan Detection Service Dogs, Nosey Dog Detection Partners, and Willow Service Dogs. Though it varies depending on the dog’s breed, age, and responsiveness, the process takes roughly a year to complete. While many breeds have been successfully trained to detect gluten, there are certain breeds that have an easier time with the process. These include German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, Australian shepherds, collies, and poodles.
Once training is completed, these service dogs can effectively identify gluten in a room and within specific items. If they detect gluten then they’ll respond as they were trained, which often involves raising a paw. While they can detect gluten in environments that contain a lot of gluten (such as a restaurant or grocery store), they should ideally live in a home that’s already gluten-free. This will help increase their detection accuracy.
Just like many humans have continued education requirements in their field of work, it’s important for celiac-sniffing dogs to continue taking classes to keep their sniffing abilities up to snuff. This is true for any type of service dog.
The Cost of Training
Costs vary depending on what program you choose and how long it takes the dog to becoming fully trained, but you can expect to pay between $10,000 and $20,000. This doesn’t include ongoing training.
Typically, health insurance companies do not cover the cost of service animal training. However, it’s possible that your Healthcare Reimbursement Account (HRA) or Healthcare Spending Accounts (HSA) may cover part or all of the cost. We suggest reaching out to your preferred training program for more information on this topic, as they may be aware of certain programs that offer additional financial assistance.
If you or someone in your family has celiac disease, having a trained service dog can make all the difference in your quality of life. They can keep you out of harm’s way and, ultimately, lend you greater peace of mind.
We want to e-meet your own fantastic fluff, so make sure to share a picture with us on Twitter or Instagram by tagging #gohealthypaws. Oh, and if you aren’t already a pet parent with us, look into getting a free quote to help safeguard your fur friend and your wallet.